September 5, 2007, 11:28 am

Nursing Students: Our Future, Our Lifeline


It’s no secret that I have had a life-long love affair with the Cherry Ames series of nursing books.

I am what I am today because of this one book.

Of course, there have been times I have rued the day I ever laid eyes on it, especially after a shift from hell!

I wonder if there are any student nurses out there today who became nurses because of Cherry. The books have been released for a new generation, but they have not been updated. Cherry is still scared of Dr. Wylie and gives up her seat to senior nurses and doctors.

Now Sue never did a thing for me.

I never even read the books. I just found out today the author was a nurse herself and served in World War I.

Why didn’t I read the books?

Because of the butt-ugly cap that Sue wears on the cover! Geeze, the thought of wearing that would have turned me off the profession forever!


When Someday Nurse told me she wanted to host a “Change of Shift” with a theme, I was a bit taken aback. Nursing is the theme of Change of shift! When I found out her theme was “Student Nurses” I became inspired!

All sorts of advice flooded my head. I imagined imparting three decades of wisdom to the intrepid students of the nursing profession. Never mind that it would all fit into one post! I am the Voice of Experience, hear me roar!

My enthusiasm was diminished by a sobering thought. Being fifty years old, the majority of the nurses that are being educated and graduating today will be the nurses who are taking care of me in my old age! Like when I’m like ninety six or so. Everyone knows that ninety is the new seventy!

It would be nice to think they are still enthusiastic about the profession in years to come, and will choose to make nursing their life’s work. We will need these new nurses to be there for us.

This means that those of us who are practicing nurses today have to look closely at how we are treating our newest colleagues, particularly the ones still in training. This post about nursing students is directed to us, the nurses of today.


Chances are you are working with or around nursing students during your shift. You may not be their instructor, but you can have a great impact on their confidence and self esteem:

  • Don’t just be available to answer their questions, be actively accessible to the students. Ask them if they have any questions! Sometimes they don’t yet know enough to know what questions to ask. If they are observing you, talk through your reasoning – why are you doing what you are doing? Just watching you will not help students with their critical thinking skills.
  • Don’t ever make the students feel like they are a problem, in the way, a pain or a waste of your time. Many of them are anxious, nervous or may seem clueless. They are. And so were we, back in the day. Yes, you’re busy and it may seem like extra work. Treat students with respect and you will reap a stronger profession down the line, one student at at a time.
  • When you see a student catch an error or observe a change in a patient through their assessment, give them positive feedback. That’s nurse-speak for a pat on the back. You can never be too effusive with your praise. The idea is to build self-confidence and pride in their professional accomplishments/growth. You don’t have to be a nursing instructor to do that.
  • If you are doing something interesting, tell the instructor and get the students involved. Some will jump right in, others will need encouragement. Provide that encouragement. The student with the caught-in-the-head-lights look who is hovering in the back corner just needs some confidence. Trust me, I used to inhabit that back corner.


Nursing today is complex and it is extremely hard for a brand new graduate to “jump in” and carry their weight immediately after graduation. We don’t have an internship/residency type of post-graduate easing into the new role. Maybe we need to provide a modified version.

  • Stop putting the new graduates into “orientation programs” and put them into transitional programs that last long enough to allow them to gradually acclimate to their new role as nursing professionals.
  • The new graduate is truly a “novice” and the definition of that means that they are not yet able to see the “big picture”. An appropriate transitioning program is especially important these days as brand new graduates are being hired for intensive care and emergency departments where critical thinking is paramount and seeing the “big picture” is de rigueur for functioning efficiently.
  • Gone are the days when a new graduate would cut their teeth on a med/surg unit and learn time management and priority setting before specializing. This is unfortunate, but the nursing shortage has made it a fact of life.
  • I’ll go out on a limb and say that a minimum of six months of increasing responsibility with a preceptor be the minimum transition period for a new grad, perhaps a year in a critical care unit. Pay preceptors a good differential to make that position attractive.

It is no secret that we lose nurses to horizontal violence. Perhaps these ideas will help encourage new nurses to stay and cause potential students to seek nursing as a career.

  • Stop slamming each other. The Three B’s of Nursing: Bitching, Bickering and Backbiting do more to damage our profession than any other single factor. No citation here, that is my personal opinion.
  • Stop bad-mouthing the profession. Yes, nursing has issues and problems and addressing them is healthy and appropriate. Continual whining is not. When you put down nursing as a profession in your everyday conversations, you may be discouraging future students from entering the profession. Maybe not directly, but your friends and acquaintances have daughters and sons who they may discourage from entering the profession.
  • Enccourage young people you know to consider the profession. We need the best and the brightest. Explain the difference between the nursing and medical professions. There are many good things about the nursing profession and we need to keep those positive aspects in the public eye.

The applicants are there, the instructors are not. Those of you with your BSN, have you considered getting an MSN and teaching? Or using your BSN to act as adjunct faculty with a local university?

You use your expertise every day for your patients. If we use it to help our nursing students, we are making a major investment in our own health and the health of our nation.

We owe it to our new colleagues.

We owe it to the profession.

We owe it to ourselves.


  • Nurse K

    September 5, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Those of you with your BSN, have you considered getting an MSN and teaching?

    Going back to school to take a pay-cut from my current position? No dice. I got a child I need to support and spending less time with him so I can go to school to make less money (or, at best, equal money) makes no sense.

    Maybe if I injure my back…

  • Wanderer

    September 5, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Right on Kim! Wish my institution had a longer orientation than I got. 6 weeks then “boom!” ON my own. We’re a high-acuity PCU so the learning curve is fast and furious and burnout tremendous. A longer transition period might help a great deal. Wish the higher-ups would see this post…

    Peace and love…

  • Caroline

    September 5, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Freakin’ A! You said it, Kim! And maybe you could also post on how we, as students, can help YOU when we come to do clinical. I start those in just a few weeks and I want so badly to make a good impression…of course on the inside, I am shakin’ in my boots.

    Thanks again for advocating for a better profession!

  • Julie

    September 5, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    I loved Sue Barton, with or without that cap!! Great post as usual by the way.

  • […] Another nurse who definitely remembers how hard it was to be a student is KimRN from Emergiblog. She doesn’t have any advice for students today. Her advice is for her colleagues. […]

  • Candy

    September 6, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Now THAT’S what I’m talking about! AMEN to every word. Versant has a wonderful 6-month nursing residency program at 49 facilities across the country (16 in California) that bring graduate nurses them “knowledge to knowing.” Nursing is the only profession without this kind of “ease in” time — would you want a new pilot at the helm of the 747 you’re a passenger on without him having some sort of residency program first? I know, back in the old days, nurses graduated from school and were on the floor, but that first year on med/surg served as a residency program. I know we don’t have that luxury anymore, but we need to remember what it was like to be that new grad, that student who didn’t want to look dumb to the older nurses.

  • La Bellota, SN

    September 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    oooh Great Post!

    I actually have a little nursing school blog going on over at Gather.

    We have a huge shortage of instructors where I am. I do hope you can encourage others to help us as along and that more externship opportunities will be available soon!

    thank you!!!

  • come clean

    September 6, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I think the skill of encouraging others is highly under rated and most people don’t know how to do it adequately. Many of the points made here are applicable to many other things beyond nursing…

  • Carol

    September 6, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Like just about every girl, I thought about being a nurse when I was a child and I read all the Sue Barton and Cherry Ames I could get my grubby little paws on. With respect to Sue’s cap, it bears quite a resemblance to the cap given by THE Bellevue (I assume) School of Nursing. The nursing article in our World Book Encyclopedia had pictures of many of the different caps used by various schools and Bellevue’s was quite distinctive. I also remember one of the nurses who used to give me my allergy shots went to Bellevue and had one of those caps. The books never said Sue went to Bellevue but that’s what her cap looks like. Cherry Ames’ cap was more generic.

  • Disappearingjohn

    September 7, 2007 at 6:16 am

    I like the words of wisdom, Kim…

    I’m a fairly new nurse myself, but am already precepting students, so it is a challenge sometimes . But it’s also why I am going back to school. I have had an old instructor already asking me to become an adjunct when I finish my BSN this March… Ultimately I want to get my masters, and eventually teach, but I see that being a long time in the future…

  • Jenny

    September 7, 2007 at 11:42 am

    You rock Kim! I printed and posted this post in the faculty breakroom, AND on the med/surg floor I am finishing up clinicals with. I have also recently applied for a residency program (only 12 weeks-but better than nothing) My first choice when residency is over? ER Baby!!

  • StudentNurseJack

    September 8, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    I love this post. Thank you, on behalf of my fellow graduate nurses/student nurses.

    Good luck with your semester, and I hope that gastroenteritis leaves your bowels SOON.

  • RehabRN

    September 9, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Nice post! I’ll be going on my own at my hospital tomorrow…yikes!

    I got 12 weeks of OTJ orientation one FIM class/cert test and about three days of classroom orientation. It’s just not enough.

    I get to complete my orientation in mid-October, just after I will have been on my own for a month. I hope I don’t need anything we might discuss before then. It’s really scary. I’m all for six-month orientation. If my hospital were not so short, it would be a good option for me…and my nerves!


    September 9, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Definitely remember how hard it was but its all worth it. If you are still a nursing student, you might want to checkout

  • Susan

    September 10, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Amen to your post! I’m a nursing student and there is nothing worse than trying to work with a nurse who is trying to pretend you are not there, or shuts the curtain in your face in a patient’s room. Thank you!

  • New Nurse

    December 15, 2007 at 6:15 am

    HI! I jumped in my chair when I saw your Cherry Ames cover in your post! I got my first C.A. book when I was about 8 (early 70’s) and ever since then I wanted to “win my cap” just like her 🙂 Well I finally did….last June…at the ripe ol age of 39! I am in my 4th week of having a “mentor” in a very small hospital. I am here because I want to do OB and this is a good way to get med/Surg and then float to OB too. Thanks for all you sais. I wanted to print it and post it but don’t want to ruffle any feathers…ya know. I hope all nurses will take what you have said to heart. Please also know that just because a new grad isn’t 20 doesn’t mean that she knows everything already…we old gals need the same training sometimes…we will just probably learn it faster…:)

    Thank you to all nurses that don’t “eat their young (or old)”

    Jen from CA

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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